April 2011 - Vol. 49.
On Not Being an Annoying Little Boy
(or, ‘The Calling of Moses’)
By Paul Michael Graham
It’s a safe assumption to make, that most of you reading this have at some point known a baby boy from when he was born until, say, he was six or seven. And you might remember that little boys are incredibly easy to love when they’re born. And when they’re learning to talk. And when they’re learning to walk. And sometimes still by the time they go to primary school.
And then at some point, that stops.
They stop being funny, they stop being effortlessly loveable, they stop being able to get away with just about anything, and instead of it being easy to hug them, it becomes easy to shout at them. Every week the bubbles of snot popping out of their left nostril become less cute and more gross. It’s just a difficult stage that young men enter into, aged 6 or 7. All of a sudden, their lip trembles as they ask themselves, “Why doesn’t everyone adore me any more?”
There are stages like this in a man’s life, that are hard to articulate, but they definitely exist. I recently turned 23, and I think I’m maybe leaving behind one of those stages and entering a new one. Let me explain: when you grow up in a Christian community, around a lot of older adult Christians, you get very good at speaking in front of that crowd, or indeed writing for that crowd.
Or, actually, you just think you’re good at it.
In reality, you could be incredibly awkward, you could be talking rubbish, and really all the adults are just thinking, “Isn’t it great that he’s here? Isn’t it great that he’s talking about God?” and regardless of what you actually say, you’re assured of an encouraging slap on the back. They’re delighted with you, they’re just so relieved that this whole thing is working for the kids. So when Jerry Munk asked me to give a talk at the Work of Christ community men’s breakfast, I barely hesitated. Partly because he’s one of my bosses. And so is his son. And so is one of his daughters. Partly because of that. But partly because my mind is still at that stage where I kind of feel like I could say or blog anything, and get approving nods and smiley-face comments.
Except – I don’t actually think I am. I’m 23, I have a college degree,
I’m spending a GAP year living in Lansing , Michigan with the Work of Christ
community to serve, to grow in holiness, to get better at doing this sort
of thing. I feel like I should be able to offer something that’s actually
worthwhile, and not just rely on you, the reader, simply being happy that
this is working for one of the kids. Because that’s not going to last forever.
There’s a story in Exodus 3 and 4 that I found striking at the start of my year here, funny but powerful. It’s a story most of you are probably familiar with, the calling of Moses. The people of Israel, God’s chosen people, are the slaves of the Egyptians. A whole nation, enslaved. What happens is God says ,“Moses, I want you to lead my people out of slavery and into freedom, in a land I’m promising you.”
What happens next is that Moses basically tries to talk God down. He asks God some questions.”Who am I that you would ask me to do this?”
“Who are you that asks me to do this?!”
The Lord answers these questions quite patiently. Surprisingly patiently. In fact, Moses kind of reminds me of that 6-year-old boy I was talking about. You know,
“Tie your shoes son.”
“Why?”“Because if you don’t, you’ll trip and fall over and bang your head.”
“Why?”“Um…it’s something to do with the earth spinning…”
“Why?”“Son, just tie your shoes…”
My dad often skipped a couple of those steps, but you get the point.
So Moses is talking to the Lord, the Most High, the King and Creator of the Universe, and he’s going “but why…” and ”but what if…”
Eventually, we start to get closer to the truth. After God’s answers to these questions don’t give Moses any room to argue, he tries a different strategy. “I’m not eloquent. You want a guy that can speak convincingly, it’s not me.” And I feel like we’re getting somewhere here. “Those questions – I was just buying time there. This is the real reason I’m not signing up for this straight away; it’s not God, it’s not the Egyptians and their armies, or the Israelites and their cynicism…it’s me. I can’t see past this weakness, God.” And when he uses this as a reason for not obeying, what he’s really saying is, “God…this is something that’s wrong with me that you can’t fix.” He doesn’t see how illogical he’s being. Why would God ask you to do something you can’t ever do? He knows you, he knows the future. He can do anything, he’s God, remember? And Moses is going, “No, you’re wrong, and you’re not able to do this in me.”
So God’s kind of at the gritted-teeth stage now. He’s like, “Moses, I’m the one that gave you the ability to talk – I think I can give you the right words to say.”
This makes so much sense that Moses panics, and kind of blurts out the real truth – “Please send someone else. I don’t want this hassle. I’m quite happy with my own little life here. I don’t need you shaking things up.” And surprise, surprise, this is the point that God gets to the angry father stage. “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.” Doesn’t sound like fun.
I think I can mostly let this story speak for itself. As I mentioned, I was struck by this at the beginning of my GAP year, back in September. I feel like God spoke through it not so much to tell me about Himself, but to tell me more about myself, especially in the structure of Moses’ argument. His attitude – an unwillingness to serve, reinforced by a self-absorbed preoccupation with his own petty shortcomings – was the same immature attitude that, coming into the GAP year, was holding me back from allowing God to really work through me. Once I realized this I did just say once and for all, “Yes Lord, now I can do anything!” It has demanded daily attention. Every morning I have to look at myself, recognize my flaws, but refuse to be incapacitated by them. Because where I am weak, I allow him to be strong. Let me boast of my weaknesses for a second.
I do good things to impress people, not to serve God. But God is changing the way my mind works and giving me the opportunities and grace to serve him in ways people won’t notice.And that’s how my GAP year is going. And that’s how I expect it to continue. I’ve not been made perfect yet, and I’m not expecting it to happen any time soon. But I am going to continue to bring these things before the Lord in prayer, and instead of saying “Because of these, I can’t,” I’m going to keep saying, “Because of these, you can, Lord.”
So what am I actually telling you, apart from just kind of rambling a bit about my year? Well, we’re all human beings, we all have weaknesses. My weaknesses might be different from yours. I can’t speak into those with any kind of authority. But what is true for all of us is that the God who created us is sick of our using these weaknesses as an excuse for not serving him, for not obeying him, for not doing the difficult and exciting things he calls us to. He insists that we step up to the plate, every day – let’s not be that 6-year-old boy, who demands to see “why?” and “how?” before he obeys the father, but let’s trust in the father’s plan to be the best path, in his grace to be sufficient, let’s trust in his power to be made perfect in our weakness.
Paul Michael (PM) Graham, from the Community of the Risen Christ in Glasgow, Scotland, graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in English Literature in summer 2010, and sped off to serve on a GAP year in Lansing, Michigan, US. God knows what's next.
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